2011 Harley-Davidson 1200 Custom Review
Among the various Harley XL1200C Sportster models you’ll find on the company website is the 1200 Custom. As it comes, the bike is recognizably a Sportster, but with a few distinctive pieces to set it aside from al the others. These include wider forks and polished triple clamps, a unique headlight “eyebrow”, and a reshaped, smaller taillight.
But the most distinctive aspect of all is the fact that you can go online and customize the model the way you want it, selecting forward foot controls, a choice of various wheels, engine-finish options, bags, windshields, and quite a bit more. In the process you can build your own bike, and then have a dealer supply it in exactly that form.
This is known as H-D1 Customization, and it’s a good way to guarantee a unique version of the Sportster you want. As you select the parts and accessories you want, the website adds them to the image of the bike. The only problem with the website (apart from dropping out of our Chrome browser a few times), is that it did not seem to feature the tank color our test bike actually wore.
But we were otherwise able to build pretty much the example Harley provided us. Unfortunately, we couldn’t get that particular bike photographed, so what you see here is just the basic 1200 Custom. What we actually rode was a machine with two-tone Sedona red tank, matte-black engine finish, black laced wheels, synthetic leather bags, a windscreen and a solo seat.
With all the options, the price rises from its basic level of $10,299 to (in our case), more than $12,600. And you can certainly drive the price either way from there by selecting (or deleting) the options on our machine. Among other things, you can specify forward-control pegs and levers, but ours had the mid-mounted equipment, which we prefer anyway.
Although the mid-mount pegs produce a nearly standard riding position, they are placed very wide to clear the air-cleaner on the right and steroidal clutch cover on the left. So ground clearance is pretty much as bad as it is on other Harleys. However, since the bike is intended for low-intensity riding fun, I, personally, have adopted a very cautious corner-entry approach on cruisers to obviate the stressful event of pegs scratching along the surface. It keeps my blood pressure in check.
The riding experience is much like that of other Harleys. The 73.3 cubic inch (1,201cc) V-twin is cranked into life by a very energetic starter, and it tugs the weighty beast away from rest with a relaxed supply of torque. Peaking at 3,200 rpm with a generous 72 pound-feet of torque, the 1200 Evolution engine never needs revving hard, and short shifting through the five-speed gearbox is entirely in line with the bike’s laid-back character.
Our 1200’s suspension felt pretty firm, but it controlled ride motions quite well, so we could live with the occasional abrupt impact from the rear wheel. The clutch is a firm, manly pull, and the shifter’s action is positive rather than slick, but perhaps both will smooth out as the miles pile on. In any event, the bike was easy to ride, and we soon felt comfortable and familiar with its responses.
Despite the big front tire—a 130/90B-16 Michelin Scorcher almost as big as its 150/80 brother fitted to the back—the Custom’s steering was quick and easy, and the whole bike felt nicely balanced at low and medium speeds.
Braking is handled up front by a single disc, but brake feel isn’t bad, and the lever is firm enough in your hand to encourage a strong squeeze when urgent slowing is required. As usual with bikes with this weight distribution, the rear brake works quite well.
The one big beef I had with the 1200 Custom is not anything I can blame on the bike. I’m just too tall for the factory-fitted windscreen, and experienced bad buffeting from the wind stream passing over its upper edge. There was just no way I could avoid it, and it felt and sounded like that loud fluttering you get in a car with just one window open. It’s called Helmholz resonance, and it was a serious deterrent to riding.
But not everyone is 6-foot-five, so only consider deleting the windscreen option if you’re close to that height. Other than that, the 1200 Custom made a great runabout, its utility greatly assisted by the two bags. Since the solo seat offered in the customization program had been ordered, there was no way to convey a passenger.
For riders determined never to take a passenger along, I guess that’s okay. But I think a vehicle weighing well over 500 pounds ought to be able to carry two people. Riders more concerned with style will doubtless beg to differ. In any event, the owner is free to choose, and the Harley will perform either role without complaint.
The 1200 Custom is probably a little heavy for riders just starting out, but the low slung seat, mild-mannered engine, and generally relaxed demeanor of the bike will help to lessen the challenge.
There’s no reason riders with some experience should avoid moving to a model like this one. It proved easy to ride, and the controls (including individual turn signals at each side that toggle on and off at a push) make the bike a friendly proposition.
These riders may find the performance less than exciting, but there’s not much wrong with a torquey V-twin that needs few revs and almost any gear to get by.